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  12.03.04 Issue #143

The $10,000 Complaint

Sally Mckenzie, CEO
McKenzie Management

How would you rate your patient care? I suspect you would give that area of your practice particularly high marks. Collections may have its moments, the staff may not always put forth the best impression, every once in a while there's a little mix-up in the schedule. But you - you are a trained and highly skilled dentist, committed to delivering the utmost quality care for your patients. Yet, therein lies the problem. Oftentimes doctors and their teams view patient care exclusively. In their minds, it's what happens in the dental chair.

They seldom consider the notion that the patient

is receiving "care" when they try to make an appointment, search for a spot in the parking lot, deal with one your financial coordinator's "collection moments," adjust their day to your little "scheduling mix-up," or duck and cover to avoid the latest salvo between employees. From the patient's standpoint, every interaction is a representation of your patient care. It extends well beyond how amazingly you electrified their once dull smile, how seemingly effortlessly you eased their pain, or how brilliantly you seated that new crown.

Although dental teams have control over 90% of the reasons why patients leave and every new patient costs the practice $10,000 just to walk in the door, few dentists make any effort to know how patients really feel about the care the entire practice is delivering. In fact, for most, no news is good news, and many are lulled into a false sense of security. Don't ask, they won't tell. And you're right, most patients - dissatisfied or not - will never say a word. They complain to their friends. They have their records sent down the street. Like the summer tan, they just fade away. So it can be particularly jarring when a patient actually makes the effort to express displeasure or dissatisfaction with the "care" they have received.

When the practice receives a complaint, understandably, the human reaction often is to assume a defensive posture or dismiss it as being inconsequential - just one of those difficult patients trying to mess up your otherwise serene view of the practice operations. The last thing you want to do is stand there and accept it.

Difficult as it is to believe, this gripe is an act of genuine respect. And that is how it should be treated. It tells you that the patient values your practice enough that they are willing to create an uncomfortable situation in order to salvage or repair this professional relationship. They really don't want to just walk away; they are willing to stick their neck out to help you fix a problem.

Instead of putting up your guard, invite the patient to sit down and discuss the matter. You might even offer them coffee. Sounds a little over the top but the point is to transform patient complaints into positive experiences, which they can be if you view them not as indicators of poor service but opportunities to provide better patient care.

Next week, turn complainers into your most loyal patients.

If you have any questions or comments, please email Sally McKenzie at

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Selling Involves More Than Telling

Dr. Nancy Haller
Executive Coach
McKenzie Management

Dear Coach:
I want to know how to sell patient treatment better. I educate them with brochures and the high tech equipm
ent I use. But even with pictures, they aren't scheduling appointments. Are there key words to motivate patients? Frustrated Doctor in Arizona

Influencing another person to take a course of action, especially one that costs them money, is a difficult that takes patience and perseverance. Let's look at the following scenario.

Imagine that you are scheduled to meet with a new patient. He/she tells you that their last dentist said "everything was okay." However, on examination you discover the need for several thousands of dollars of work, from deep root cleaning to restorative procedures.

For many, this situation triggers discomfort at best. The patient believes they have no problems. Regardless of whether this is denial or misrepresentation on the part of their previous dentist, this patient is not expecting or wanting to hear the bad news you are about to deliver. When patients are in pain, they are highly motivated for treatment, at least in the short run. But convincing the patient in the example above is another story - they don't have a toothache and they believe their teeth are fine.

For you the dentist, there are two primary, and sometimes competing, factors involved: 1) providing good dental care and 2) overcoming financial resistance. Assuming that your intentions are noble - you are recommending treatment that is necessary, appropriate, and in the patient's best interest - the real issue is money. More specifically, how you feel about money. Before you overcome the patient's concerns about cost, you need to check your own beliefs about money and its place in your life.

Most medical professionals enter their respective field because they want to help people. It is likely that you saw dentistry as a way to serve others and to make a good income. Yet how you feel about the financial aspects of your practice is a key issue in your ability to sell treatment to patients. To understand your beliefs about money, pay attention to what you say to yourself when financial matters arise with patients.

Beliefs, attitudes, and expectations influence financial decision making. Take an inventory of the barriers or repeating experiences of failing to accomplish your financial goals. It is likely that your thinking prevents or sabotages you from succeeding.

Are you worried about how patients will see you? Do you anticipate them thinking, "this guy's (or gal's) out for big bucks?" How deserving do you feel of the fees you charge?

Another way to recognize your view of money is to free associate to the word 'money.' That is, quickly name the first five things that come up in your mind when you say 'money.' Notice whether your associations are positive and income-enhancing. If not, objectively challenge your negative ideas about money.

Financially successful people have positive beliefs about prosperity and abundance. Expand your mental frame around money. Operate from the perspective of "what's possible." Remove the limitations and barriers in your thinking.

The same holds true for patients. Their resistance may be fear-based. By achieving a peaceful state of mind about your own views of money, you will be more capable of reassuring patients. You'll also be more convincing when you present a viable dental plan to them.

Remember that people respond more to what they are going to lose than to what they are going to gain. And money is one of the strongest motivators of human behavior.

To learn more about how your thoughts, feelings and attitudes contribute to or interfere with your financial success, contact Dr. Haller at

Dr. Haller is available to speak to your dental society or study club on subjects such as interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like information about any of her practice-building seminars, contact her at or 1-877-777-6151 Ext. 33

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Are You A "Vanilla" Dentist?

Belle M. DuCharme
RDA, CDPMA, Director
The Center for
Dental Career Development

Recently I was asked to visit the office of a dentist that had attended a seminar here at The Center for Dental Career Development. He wanted to know what I thought of his office design and décor. The reception room was pleasant with sofa and chairs that you might find in someone's living room. The walls were artic white and the furniture and carpets were shades of blue. It felt clean, comfortable and relaxing. I looked about the room for some indication of the services and/or products that Dr. K provided or recommended. I found an article in a binder

about the link between periodontal disease and cardiovascular disease yet there was no reference as to if and how periodontal disease would be treated in Doctor K's office. The reading material was sparse and I could not find a magazine that interested me. There were no educational brochures, practice brochures or any indication that this was an actual "dental office." I walked down the hall and looked into the treatment rooms. On the walls were colorful paintings by a local artist. From the evidence of the dental chairs and equipment I recognized that dentistry was performed here but what services did Dr. K provide? Was he good at dentistry? Could I expect to get "cosmetic dentistry" here?

Walking into the lab I noticed a Cerec machine.  I commented on it and Dr. K said that he was using it more and feeling quite confident in his ability to create great restorations that fit perfectly and the wonderful part was the patient did not have to come back at another appointment for the seating.  “Why don’t you promote that service in your reception room?  You could have brochures explaining about the process and before and after photos of your patients”, I said. After looking over his insurance code utilization reports, it appeared that his favorite dentistry was porcelain type crowns, inlays, onlays and veneers.  He also had ZOOM whitening system but you would never know it unless you asked about bleaching.  He has a talent for making people look more attractive yet his office does not give any indication of his abilities.  As far as I could see he is a “vanilla dentist”.

As a dentist in an age of specialization and advancing technology, the way that you present yourself can spell the difference between growth and stagnation or success and failure.  Marketing your talents to patients with an interest in your services is the key to a busy and productive practice.  The patient needs to know what services you offer and your skill level in delivering those services.  Enhancing your abilities with licenses, degrees, certifications, testimonials and memberships in professional organizations lends to the credibility of your work.  These items need to be framed and placed around your office.  Information on services provided and areas of special interest need to be communicated to the patient.  At The Center for Dental Career Development our Business Training Course explores creating your niche and marketing techniques to promote your practice in addition to comprehensive customized training of business systems.  We want to take your office from the ordinary to the extraordinary.  For more information, call us today.  Remember to think beyond “vanilla”.

For more information about Business Training for dentist and staff please contact The Center for Dental Career Development.

Belle M. DuCharme, RDA, CDPMA, Director


I just can't say enough wonderful things about McKenzie Management and their help in making my practice a "business," not just a "place of dentistry." I learned so much from McKenzie Management that I can't begin to tell you how it's impacted my life. If I hadn't contacted McKenzie Management, I would still be in the same unorganized, "flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants" routine that I had been in since I started my practice. I now know with the business principles that McKenzie Management has taught me and of course my willingness to learn and perfect new techniques, that my dream of having a million dollar practice is very attainable and will be here sooner than I had originally thought.




Understanding your employees' personality traits can help to better match your staff with the work they are likely to do best. Dentists will learn how their personality affects their ability to successfully manage the business and its employees.

Included is the book Please Understand Me which provides the personality test and scoring form.

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Sally's Mail Bag

Dear Sally...First thanks for all those tips you keep putting out there to make life better for us. Do you have a simple percentage and what the pay would be based on for a commision type pay plan for my hygienist? She is using a 45% number but seems to think that should include all of her routing slips etc. Do other offices pay their hygienists a % of the X-rays etc? I'd appreciate any guide lines that you have....Thanks a bunch... Dr. "Bill"

Hi Dr. Bill,
Thanks for reading. We all work really hard to make sure the newsletter is providing information you can use. You might want to check out my new web-site at On the home page you will see Practice Management Library. You can search by management topic all of my past newsletters. In answer to your question, the answer is 33%. If the hygienist is paid a guaranteed base...she has to produce 3 x that salary. If she's paid commission she's paid no more than 33% for anything she does including x-rays if she takes them, HOWEVER, if you are paying benefits, hospitalization, retirement that should be part of her compensation so her % would likely be less than 33%. You simply have to determine the amount of her benefits to know how much to drop the percentage so it equals no more than 33%.

Hope this helps.

For More Information
or e-mail us at:

The Center for Dental Career Development
Advanced Business Education for Dental Professionals
737 Pearl Street, Suite 201
La Jolla, CA 92037

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